Susan Gregg Koger started ModCloth the summer after high school with her then-boyfriend, now-husband as a place to sell her excess thrift-store finds. So when she went to college, ModCloth came too. Sure, that meant that her dorm room became her fledgling side-business’s fulfillment center (thanks, understanding college dorm-mates!), and that she sometimes got business calls when she was in the library studying, but it also meant that when she graduated she already had a job of her own making.
Since then, she’s grown the ModCloth team to more than 400 employees in three cities. That success is part hard work and boot-strapping early on and part asking the questions that a seasoned retailer might not think to ask**. But what it also comes down to is that Susan found what she liked best and started hustling at it, trying new things and learning as she went. We caught up with her to ask a few questions about what it took to get ModCloth started and what she wishes she’d known at the beginning.
How do you describe what you do?
I’m the founder and chief creative officer of ModCloth, which means that I’m ultimately responsible for the look and feel of our brand. That includes the designers we feature, the products we design, the experience of our website and apps, and the way we tell stories in our marketing.
What’s your average day like? Do you have a morning routine?
I travel a lot, so I don’t have much of an “average,” which I actually really love. No matter where I am, though, I always eat a protein-rich breakfast and practice yoga for at least 10-15 minutes to get my day started right.
Coffee, tea, or neither?
Coffee! I’m definitely addicted.
What was your first job?
I was a salesperson at a candle store in my local mall in suburban South Florida.
You’re an avid thrifter–what’s the best thing you ever found?
I’ve found so many amazing things over the years! My favorite is probably a tomato-red Christian Dior wool coat from the late ’60s/early ’70s that I scored for $15 at a Goodwill in Pittsburgh, PA.
When did it first occur to you that you should make a website? And then what did you have to do or learn to get it off the ground?
I started envisioning the concept for the business, and the website, in the summer of 2002, when I was 17. That meant that I basically needed to learn everything–how to take product photos, how to design a logo in Photoshop, how to write marketing copy that would appeal to our customers. I was very fortunate to have a business partner–my boyfriend at the time, now my husband–who already knew how to set up the ecommerce platform.
Did you ever face uncertainty or self-doubt in the midst of starting or growing ModCloth? How did you push through it?
Yes! Everyone goes through uncertainty and self-doubt. It still happens to me today, with hundreds of employees and millions of dollars in revenue. Ultimately, I push through by believing in myself and my vision and surrounding myself with people that believe too.
How do you define success for yourself?
I just finished the positive psychologist Martin Seligman’s book Flourish and it really resonated with me. His model of PERMA (Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment) as the universal basis of happiness and a good life makes a lot of sense to me, and is something that I’m striving to cultivate in my own life. That’s success for me.
What are three things you wish you’d known when you started?
There’s one major thing. It’s easy to say but hard to really internalize and understand. It’s this: entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster. Sometimes you’re on the way up, sometimes you’re on the way down. It’s scary and exhilarating at the same time. But you’re never in real danger, and, whenever possible, you have to remind yourself to enjoy the ride, no matter which direction you’re heading at the moment.
**Check out this great talk Susan gave at 99U on how being a rookie is an asset.
Photo courtesy of ModCloth